My Photo Scanning Project

Boxes of loose photo prints, cds loaded with digital images, and crates of framed and unframed portraits cover the top of a table in my studio. Beneath the table are stacks of photo albums and small boxes containing several hundred slides. My mother’s albums and scrapbooks are stacked on the floor at the left end of the table.

I call this chaos “my photo scanning project.” It’s a “project” because my goal is to impose order on the chaos. The table sits against a wall that is at my back when I am at my desk. Dog-like, the project nips at my heels, an ever present, constant, and nagging reminder of its need for attention. Progress is slow, the work tedious and time consuming.

The prints, slides, and digital images represent several lifetimes. In addition to my own photographs, I inherited my mother’s photographs. I have photographic images spanning six generations of my family’s history. Many of the photos I want to keep. I don’t want albums in various states of dilapidation. And, I do not want boxes of loose prints.

The images I shoot with my digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera are uploaded to my computer where they are stored and organized in an Adobe Lightroom catalog. I keep the catalog up to date and the images accessible by organizing them into collections and assigning keywords. I recently began geocoding images, a process that is simplified with an application on my iPhone.

My goal is to make family photos easily accessible by uploading scanned images to a Lightroom catalog where they are organized into collections with keywords. I pass on the original prints to family members who want them. My niece is especially interested in collecting old family photos, so I offer her the oldest prints.

Organizing a group of prints for her, it occurred to me they are worthless without knowing who is in the photo, where, and when it was taken. I created a table in a Word document to accompany the prints. Using Photoshop, I made thumbnails of the photos and copied the thumbnails into the table. I added the image file name, the names of people in the photo, the place the photo was taken, and the date.

As my photo scanning project proceeds, new ideas about how better to organize the catalog occur to me. When completed, the project will provide a well-organized and informative family history resource.

From chaos, order.

Remembering My First Home

My first home was an apartment over the garage of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Across the street was the bakery where my dad worked. I remember nothing about the apartment; but, I have two vivid memories of the neighborhood.

My cousin, Teddy, and me

My earliest memory is being trapped against a brick wall in an empty space between fifty-five gallon industrial drums on the sidewalk in front of the bakery.

Teddy, my fifteen-year old cousin, lifted me up and put me on top of the drums, probably because he thought I would think it fun to be taller than he was. There were 20 or 30 drums. I scampered across the tops of the drums, hopping from one drum to the next. Finding an empty space between the drums closest to the wall, I lowered myself into it, thinking I would surprise Teddy with a disappearing act. When my trick did not attract Teddy’s attention, I tried a different tactic. “Hey, Teddy,” I yelled, jumping up like Jack-in-the-box. Teddy looked at me. I laughed with great glee thinking I was funny and very clever.

“Come on, Champ,” he said. “Get over here. It’s time to go home.” I tried to climb out of the hole, but I could not. I tried several times to pull myself up and to get on top of the drums. There was nothing to climb on, nowhere to get a foothold to boost myself up.

“I can’t, Teddy,” I yelled. “I’m trapped.” I tried again. Only by holding my breath and straining with teeth-grinding exertion did I pull myself on top of a drum. I did it. Teddy did not help me. No one helped me. I walked across the tops of the drums to the place where Teddy was standing. He lifted me up and set me on the sidewalk. “Let’s go,” he said.

A fruit and vegetable vendor came through the neighborhood once a week. Everything about the fruit and vegetable man was silver. He had silver hair, a big silver mustache, and wore striped bib overalls. He had an old silver truck he started with a hand-crank. The truck had a flat bed covered with a silver canopy. A platform on the truck bed with sides that slanted up toward the center of the truck bed allowed the contents of the boxes of fruits and vegetables to be displayed.

A scale hung from the right hand corner of the canopy at the rear of the truck bed. I can see the old man now, placing big red beefsteak tomatoes in a bucket hanging from the scale then placing them in a basket held out to him. There were green bell peppers, golden peaches, plump watermelons, and cantaloupes. After filling everyone’s orders, the old man walked to the front of his silver truck. Bending down, he’d give the crank a quick turn. The engine would make chugging sounds. He’d climb into the cab behind the steering wheel and drive slowly down the street.

Willie & Punkie

Willie & Punkie

Willie & Punkie

Willemma and Delonas were my mother’s two youngest sisters. I am not certain where the “Will” of Willemma came from; but, my grandmother’s name was Emma. Delonas is easier. She was born in 1934. My grandfather was a Roosevelt Democrat.

Their family called them “The Tykes;” but, my grandfather’s cousin referred to them as “The Little Punks.” Delonas got singled out as “The Punk” which became “Punkie.” The name stuck. Willemma got shortened to Willie. They were Willie and Punkie ever after.

Willie and Punkie were, respectively, 11 and 10 years older than I. From the beginning, they were more big sisters than aunts. I thought they were beautiful and I loved them more than I can say.

My sister and I spent summers with them while they were still in high school. They devoted their full attention to us filling our days with lifelong memories.

Every morning after breakfast, they would take us out on the lawn. They swung, chased, summersault-ed, and cartwheel-ed with us. They did handstands and jumped rope. We played ring around the rosy until we were dizzy.

And their hands. I can never forget the almond-cherry smell of their hands. Where did that divine smell come from? It didn’t occur to me to ask. I was determined, though, to find out.

I happened to observe that they ate Grape-Nuts every morning for breakfast. It was after breakfast while playing on the lawn that I noticed the smell of their hands. “Aha! It’s the Grape-Nuts,” my six year old brain concluded.

“Cornflakes or Cheerios, Denny?” Willie asked the next morning.

“Grape-Nuts,” I said.

“You won’t like them.”

“Yes, I will.”

Willie was right. I didn’t like them. But eating them was a small price to pay for cracking the secret of the scent.

Grape-Nuts were a disappointment. After breakfast, Willie and Punkie’s hands were almond-cherry scented. Mine were not.

Jergens ad circa 1957

I was an adult before I learned it was the Jergens lotion they rubbed on their hands after washing the breakfast dishes. Punkie used Jergens her whole life. Willie outgrew Jergens in favor of other, more sophisticated lotions. I will never outgrow memories of my beautiful and almond-cherry scented big-sister-aunts.

(Mis)Understanding Whitman

“To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.” –Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman is the principal of my pantheon of poets. For 50 years, Whitman has been my muse. To realize I’ve misunderstood him is a serious blow.

In the “Who goes there?” canto (Canto 20) of “A Song of Myself,” Whitman states that the converging objects of the universe flow to him, as though he were an oracle whose job it is to define the objects’ meanings for the rest of us.

That’s not it. “That’s not it at all,” T. S. Eliot might say. Whitman is saying the objects “appear” to him to flow. They appear to be written objects and he must figure out for himself what the objects mean. That’s much different than being an oracle.

In my 50 year relationship with this poem, I have understood it literally rather than metaphorically.

“I’ve got something to show you,” says Michael Goldman’s Muse. “Stand here.” Maybe that’s what Walt has been saying to me. The converging objects of the universe appear to flow. Standing on the bank of the river in which I see the objects flowing, my eye catches a hieroglyph, a metaphor, or a symbol. Like a tarot card or an I Ching tetragram, it inspires interpretation. I must explain what the writing means to me.

I’ve thought of the “Who goes there?” canto as a manifesto or creed. If it is a creed, it’s Whitman’s creed. “These are my symbols,” Whitman might say, “and this is what they mean to me. You have to find your own symbols and write your own interpretation.”

Whitman has been a constant companion who has served me well despite any misunderstanding. The clarity with which I now see the poem deepens my admiration of Whitman’s art putting our relationship on a higher level of understanding.

When the Muse Comes

Clio by Pierre Mignard

“When the Muse comes She doesn’t tell you to write; / She says get up for a minute, I’ve something to show you, stand here.” –Michael Goldman

In a previous post I commented on my struggle to read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The Blackstone Audio edition of Pilgrim, narrated by Tavia Gilbert, transformed my struggle into an epiphany.

As difficult as Pilgrim is to read, I am thrilled I found a way to access it. The book’s content is not interesting to me; but, Dillard’s writing style is poetic. The sound of her words, her detailed descriptions, and the exuberance of her feelings are breathtaking. The Muse had something to show Annie. And Annie shows us what she saw from where the Muse told her to stand.

“Show, don’t tell,” writers are told. “Use the words you have to paint pictures.” Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is about seeing; and, Dillard shows us what it means not only to see but to be “present” in the moment. Dillard writes to the bottom of every scene she describes. That’s probably why Pilgrim won the Pulitzer Prize.

I wonder what the Muse wants to show me. She comes and often I catch only a glimpse. Maybe I don’t stand in the right spot.

I’ve felt I was led by the Muse; but, nothing of the depth Dillard describes. I know you can’t just sit and wait for the Muse to tell you where to stand. You have to write. A lot. The Muse can only tell you where to stand if you show up.

I’ve begun writing many times waiting for the Muse. Until I read the lines of Michael Goldman’s poem, I thought writing was taking dictation from the Muse. Goldman turns that idea on its head.

“Stand here,” says the Muse. “What do you see?”

The Muse is not going to tell me what she expects me to see. She’s showing me what is there to see. It is up to me to find the words to describe what I see.

I’ve written enough to know the difference between showing and telling. I can spot it in my writing and I am quick to point it out to fellow writers in critique groups.

We tend to write the way we speak and end up telling because so much of every day speech is telling. We say or show little of the affect of our experiences.

“I’ve something to show you, stand here.” Often what I am shown is a metaphor. When that happens I pay attention. It has happened several times.

Sometimes I resist following the Muse. I’m involved in another project and don’t want to be distracted. I make note of it what the Muse shows me; but, I don’t always get around to writing about it. Ignoring the Muse’s inspiration leaves me spinning my creative wheels as I stubbornly pursue my own agenda.

The Muse is patient and continues to show up with images, scenes, and metaphors. She doesn’t care what you do with them. As long as you show up, the Muse will show up, too.

“Stand here,” says the Muse. My eye catches an object, a metaphor. I don’t take dictation because I have to get what the object means on my own. The Muse’s job is to suggest where to stand to see the scene to its best advantage.

The line from Michael Goldman’s poem handed me a paradigm shift. Reading Dillard’s book has more than served its purpose.

A simple declarative sentence. “Stand here,” says the Muse. See the universe unfold before your eyes.

“Catch it if you can,” says Annie Dillard.

Blogging a Life

I began journaling 30 years ago. To give my journal a focus, I created an imaginary alter ego to whom I bared my soul. I began blogging seven years ago without knowing to whom I was writing or why. I wrote whatever came to mind and posted it.

I don’t promote a product or a service. I don’t tell or show anyone how to write or how to blog. I observe and comment. What I observe triggers memories. I write about the memories. Often I write about doubt or I pose a question: Why is this situation the way it is?” Before I know it, I’ve written several lines or even pages. The doubt is dispelled and the situation is clarified.

I write with a pen on lined spiral notebook pages. I thought blogging would change my writing process. I tried composing at the computer keyboard but found it a distraction. I am constantly correcting, editing,  and revising. When I write by hand, the words spill on to the page. Later, I transcribe what I’ve written and revise and edit. At times I keep only a small portion of what I wrote to use for a blog post. Other times I find enough for two, three, or four posts. Writing surprises me.

Writing is therapy. Writing is positive addiction. Writing is spiritual practice. My life would be dark without the light writing shines into its corners and dark areas. In Pat Schneider’s words, “writing is how the light gets in.”

Blogging enlarges my life. Through blogging, I engage with others who share my interests, positive attitudes, and gratitude for all life gives me. I was pleased to learn that blogging about my life makes me a “lifestyle” blogger. I have a focus.

Building a Web Site, Creating a Blog, & Gratitude

My online life began in late 2006. The rationale behind an online existence was to create a space to share aspects of my life with family and friends through writing supplemented with photographs.

With the help of a professional web designer, I built a web site. The web site design was beautiful and functioned exactly as I wanted.

My blogging career began with derwerffblogg, a hosted blog linked to my web site. I chose “people, places, ideas, and events that enrich my life” as the blog’s tag line. I have covered a lot of ground since my first blog post on September 9, 2007.

Maintaining the web site became more work than I wanted. With the development of web technology and content management systems, I discovered a blog was what I wanted.

After five years, I abandoned the web site and moved derwerffblogg from to a self-hosted site using the WordPress platform. That has worked well and I am pleased with my decision.

I’ve gone through dry spells in which I haven’t posted for months. I’ve traveled and kept up the blog on a regular basis. I survived the April 2013 A to Z Blog Challenge.

At present, I am launched on a personal blog challenge, a response to my desire to honor a commitment to write regularly. A blogging buddy with whom I “bookend” keeps me accountable.

The more I reflect on what enriches my life, the more I find I have to be grateful for. So, my blog is both a place for reflection and for gratitude.

As part of my daily writing, I make a gratitude list. Certain things I list daily. Other days, a thought may occur that reminds me I am grateful for one more thing. I add it to my gratitude list.

Focusing on gratitude opens space in my life for more good and more reasons for gratitude; and, gratitude eases stress.

One morning last week I received an email from a friend who follows my blog. “More fine words on your recent ‘blogg,’” she wrote. “I look forward to these little luminaries as they shine into my inbox.”

“Luminaries” that shine into anyone’s inbox are a source of deep gratitude and all the reason I need to continue blogging.

Reading (Part 3)

How I Read

I love to hold a book. I love the weight of a book and the texture of the pages as I turn them. Depending on where and how it’s been stored, a book can have a unique smell.

A comfortable chair, a good reading light, a lovely cup of tea, and a good book is my idea of heaven. And of course, reading in bed. What luxury.

There was a time when I refused to imagine piling up in bed with an electronic device of any kind instead of a book. I’ve had a Kindle for two years and I love it. Kindle offers the best of both worlds. I can read, I can listen, and I can listen and read.

The wonders of modern technology have made many books available free (and, so does the public library, don’t forget). The Kindle or Kindle-like devices are more convenient.

Kindle eBooks don’t have all of the “bells and whistles” of the eBooks I enjoyed in the college library where I worked. Those eBooks are, in my opinion, the ultimate research tool. They offer full text searching across the text of the entire book. Most Kindle eBooks lack indexing. Pages can be bookmarked, text can be highlighted and saved. With the library’s eBooks, saved notes can be downloaded in a variety of formats.

Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books, or eBooks. I can often find out of print books that have been digitized and made available in a variety of electronic formats. Project Gutenberg offers over 45,000 free eBooks and access to more than 100,000 titles through its partners and affiliates.

Audiobooks books have been around for a long time; but, technology has made them more accessible. I first became interested in audiobooks when I commuted two hours each way once a week while working on a Ph.D. Audiobooks were a pleasant diversion from the demands of a graduate study reading list.

For nearly 10 years I lived 150 miles from everywhere, I had plenty of time in my car to listen to audiobooks. I listened to audiobooks when I walked my dog as I did five times a day for 30-45 minutes at a time. I listened to many books I would not have read otherwise.

Book, eBook, or audiobook, their purpose is to inform and to enrich our lives.

Reading (Part 2)

 What I Read

“Have you read…?” is a question I ask often. If the answer is “No,” I say something I liked about the book. “It’s a beautiful story. I thought how much you would enjoy it.”

I don’t mind being asked “Have you read…?” when the question is asked out of curiosity. What I don’t like is the person who pulls a pained facial expression when I say “No.” It is as if there is something congenitally haywire or morally defective in me.

“You haven’t read it?” they will gasp. “Oh, you must,” indicating I’m in danger of some dire consequence for not reading a book they consider essential.

Then there is the person who assumes I’ve read what they’ve read. “You’ve read…, of course.”

“No,” I haven’t,” I say. Again, the pained expression.

“You have to read it.”

I tried to read it. I didn’t like the author’s style; or, it didn’t appeal to me; or, maybe later. James Michener is a good example.

I became aware of Michener with the publication of Hawaii in 1959. It seemed everyone I knew was reading or had read the book. And everyone I knew thought I should read it. I didn’t. And, I did not see the movie. It was the same with Centennial 15 years later. I began reading Centennial but could not get past the dinosaurs rutting in the primordial ooze. I’m not completely intolerant of Michener. I enjoyed The Source.

My resistance to Michener is the same as my resistance to any fad. I refuse to be pressured into following the crowd. I’m making a statement about who I am. No thank you, that doesn’t interest me.

My primary reading interest is U.S. history and biography. Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin are at the top of my list along with anything written by David McCullough.

I have a fondness for nineteenth century English fiction. Eliot’s Middlemarch is a particular favorite. I love Jane Austen and I’ve read most of Dickens. I made a brief foray into 19th century Russian novels, though “brief” is a word not typically applied to 19th century Russian novels. On finishing Anna Karenina, I realized I cared nothing for any character in the story. As a novel, The Brothers Karamozov is an excellent story with strong character development. Two 19th century Russian novels, however, were enough.

Annie’ Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek hung around my “must read” list for several years before I decided its time had come. Dillard’s writing is skillful, pondering topics with dense, lush description. The book tired me out after 40 pages. Dillard’s pondering is, well, ponderous.

My reaction to Dillard is a different reaction than the reaction I had to Michener. I want to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; but, it is inaccessible. Has this frustration happened to you? How did you deal with it?

Reading (Part 1)

Why I Read

Mark Twain observed that “the [one] who does not read has no advantage over the [one] who cannot read. Reading is important.

For writers, reading is essential. “If you don’t have time to read,” says Stephen King, “you don’t have the time—or the tools—to write.” In a recent blog post, writer Delia Latham lists 10 reasons why writers should read.

Reading is fundamental to who I am. I read for knowledge. I read for awareness of the world in which I live. I read because I love to read. As a writer, I read for all of the reasons Latham enumerates.

Without reading I am a shell, a body without a soul. Incredible journeys and adventures to faraway worlds shared with larger than life characters feed my creative spirit. Their absence would leave my life barren.

As a librarian, books are my life. Freedom to read anything I want is magical. My interests are wide-ranging. I love the serendipity of browsing through library stacks and the shelves of used book stores. Examining a used book, I like to imagine what it would say about its owners and its journey to a used book store. I’ve acquired many books from used book stores and friends of the library book sales. Some I read and keep. Others I read and pass on.

At the same time reading is fundamental to my creative life, it is fundamental to my professional life. I am a prospector in search of light. I am a miner of wisdom. Writing exposes the brilliant facets of enlightenment. Books are forms of intellectual prospecting and mining. A library is a tool used to extract the raw materials of learning.

My career and my search for inner wisdom have taught me that being the steward of the record of human knowledge is a sacred task. Lux mentis. Lux orbis. The light of the mind is the light of the world. And, reading is the key.